I stand in the rain holding an umbrella braced against my neck and shoulder and try to position my camera on the waterfall in front of me. This is yet another attempt to photograph this waterfall in the high Uintah Mountains in Utah. I have photographed this waterfall many times before but have yet to get the shot that really tells the story that my soul is whispering very loudly to tell.  I hadn’t counted on the rain today. The high peaks here seem to reach up, catch the clouds as they pass over, and squeeze a little, or a lot, of rain out of them; not a hard rain like one would get in the South but a very consistent peppering of light drops of fresh, cool rainwater. Plus, the temperature dropped about 15 degrees.

I stand for a while and look around at the power of the spring run-off as the snow melts on the high peaks sending small rivulets of water everywhere. I also wonder what in the world I am doing out here in the cold and rain, camera on a tripod in front of me, trying to capture an image of this beautiful creation of Mom Nature and the Big Guy up in Heaven. What was I thinking? To what purpose am I freezing my fingers and toes with water dripping on my nose from the constantly shifting umbrella I hold between my shoulder and frozen ear?

The reality is that even though I am uncomfortable because of the climate, crappy as it is, I have a smile on my face and a twinkle in my eye because I am doing what I love to do. I am creating images with my trusty friend, Monsieur Canon. Together we are working to capture an image that has been pre-visualized in my head long before I reached this cold and damp location.

Why do we do this? What is it about photography that makes us try to create images with our trusty cameras no matter what uncomfortable conditions good ole’ Mother Nature throws at us. When we look, and really see, do we have this burning desire to turn it into a photograph so we can enjoy it again and again?  If this internal wish to make images is really a burning desire to create something good and possibly great, then any discomfort in the creative process is just that. It is a part of the whole that is necessary to really enjoy and participate in the wonderful creative process of photography.

Pre-visualization: The beginning of the photographic creative process.

         I guess it is the beauty and mysteries around us that constantly squeeze our creative juices and cause us to have this uncontrollable  urge to make something creative out of what is happening before our eyes.  When I look at something, I am constantly pre-visualizing the different possibilities. Maybe I could use a specific lens, maybe a certain plug-in will look cool, or maybe adding a texture to the image will create the look that I have in my mind.

I think we all need to learn to make pre-visualization a part of our creative, photographic process.  Learn to see and plan for the post-production process as you are going through the production process. This post-production work can sometimes be just as fun as the process of taking the photo.

Photography has been an on-going adventure for me over the years.  I realize that I am constantly learning to be a better photographer. I am always trying to push myself to be more creative; thus, photography has helped shape me as an individual.  It has helped me to see the world differently.  I stop and absorb the beauty of a sunset. I look at faces to see how they reflect the soul of the individual.  I see a cherry hanging on the limb of a tree and go through several scenarios of how I might make a beautiful image of this creation of Mom Nature and The Big Guy. I think photography has helped to gentle my spirit. I appreciate the little things far more than some people I know.

So embrace photography for what it is. Stand in the rain and watch and wait. Look at the reflections on the street after the rain. Watch a baby’s face and see what different light does to this wonderful miracle of creation.  Rejoice as the rays of early morning light skim over the landscape to celebrate the beginning of a new day.

Dewitt Jones, an incredible creative spirit, stated in Outdoor Photography Magazine, “Photography is a spiritual practice.  It is a discipline  that allows me a thousand new perspectives on the world.  It is a discipline  that takes me to a place of reverence.  To a place where I can be the watcher, the appreciator, the celebrator and ultimately,  just the lover of the incredible beauty it allows me to witness.”   I wish I could say it as well as he said it.

What does photography do for me?  Many things….but  most of all it has made me a much better person and helped me to open my soul to the beauties around me and given me the ability to….. listen with my eyes……. ‘Nuf said.

I have this thing for water. I love to listen to water falling over rocks, and I love to watch it as it crashes onto the beach in the form of a beautiful, curling wave.  Watching and listening to these forms of water really soothes my soul and gentles my spirit, but trying to photograph these beautiful experiences is another thing. Do I want to stop the motion of the water, or do I want to give it some motion? What to do, what to do!

I love a curling wave where I can see the transparency of the water through the wave. In the South Pacific the water is crystal blue and looks good enough to drink. Up on the Oregon coast the water is a greenish color with a touch of brown due to lots of wind and wave action. Both offer exciting places to shoot and create wonderful images. The most important thing is to understand what kind of image you want to create.

Sometimes I want to stop the action totally and see the drops of water suspended in the air just before they drop from the top of the curl. On a recent visit to the Oregon coast, I got just such a shot. I saw a gull sitting on a rock and a big wave approaching in the distance. I knew the bird would fly before getting hit by the wave, so I set my shutter speed to 1/1000 of a second with and an aperture of around f 5.6-f 8 and waited for the wave to hit. Action stopped, the bird was saved in the nick of time, and the old photographer got his shot.  So to stop action in waves, go for the fast shutter speed. I could have shot even faster, but I thought 1/1000 would do the job. It did!

You don’t need a new camera to shoot waterscapes or waterfalls. Remember, the shutter speed will make or break the shot.

A camera and tripod are needed to photograph water. Don’t go any where without your tripod. Most important lesson grasshopper. (You need to say this with a Chinese inflection.) Burn the necessity for the tripod into your memory.

Make sure that your camera can shoot in manual mode. This is most necessary. (Ok… get rid of the Chinese inflections.) You don’t really need an ND (Neutral Density) filter to help you get a longer shutter speed. It surely helps, but it is not necessary. All you really need to do is shoot in early morning or late afternoon. Sometimes, if there are lots of clouds in the sky, just wait for the clouds to cover the sun and shoot quickly.  Watch the light. The light is always the key. Direct sun gives lots of hot spots and lots of dark and light areas, not really great for the photographer who wants the best images. (Using a ND filter will give you a longer shutter speed but the dark and light spots will still be there).  If you have to shoot with the sun overhead, then try an HDR. You will probably need a bracket of 5-7 images because of the darks and the very light highlights of the water. Make sure you have one of the brackets with detail in the water if you shoot HDR at mid-day. Still, I recommend shooting early or late for the best images.

Adjust your f stop so your depth of field is adequate to get everything in focus. Wide angles don’t need f-22 unless you are just trying to get a slower shutter speed. Your optimum f stop will probably be between f 8 and f 11. Most lenses are sharpest at these f stops, but don’t stay away from smaller apertures in fear of loosing sharpness in your image.  The loss is minimal if you are using a good lens. We do what we have to do in order to get the image.

For that wonderful silky look to the water, you will need a longer exposure.  Get that camera on the tripod and try some different exposures. If the water is moving very fast, you will need a shorter exposure of around 1 second.  With slower moving water you might go up to 3-4 seconds. The great thing about digital is that you can try different things to see what works the best.  Watch the different effects that are created with the longer shutter speeds. For the photo below I tonemapped a single image in Photomatix, then I added a little touch of onOne Perfect Effects and Topaz adjust. (Photomatix is an HDR editing software and onOne and Topaz Adjust are plug-ins for Photoshop).The shutter speed was probably around 4 seconds, and I probably could have increased that some more to give a more silky look. . There is always room to grow even for an old Pro shooter. Shoot and learn. Shoot and learn


Other helpful techniques.

If you notice that the plants in the foreground are a little soft or out of focus due to movement by the wind, try this technique. After your exposure for the silky water, take another image that will stop the movement of the plants and trees. You will need at least 1/125 or more depending on the strength of the wind, so you also might need to increase your ISO in order to keep the same depth of field. Then when you get back on the computer just use a layer mask to paint in the motionless plants and trees. I do this all the time. Even with HDR you can make sure you have one bracket with motionless plants and then paint in the proper sharp image. That is why layer masks were created. This is called image blending. Pretty cool, and it does not look like you have manipulated the image.

Use water as a reflective source. When I am shooting in southern Utah, I love to go out and shoot after a storm. That is the time that I will find water standing in puddles or pools on the rocks, and they add a lot to the composition of the image.  Different textures always add to the quality of your landscape image. Puddles of water always add interest and give another place for the eye to go. Sometimes you need to get down for a lower angle to get the optimum use of the reflective qualities of the water in the pool or puddle. Always notice the reflections in water. Often I will just shoot the reflections. Jay Maisel, another old Pro shooter, used to do this a lot in his photography.

So grab your camera AND tripod, and go dance in the rain…or waves…., but most of all, enjoy the experience!

I went fishing several days ago with my son, Shawn. Every year we try to go up in the high Uintah Mountains of Utah and fish the lakes as the ice is just about melted off of the water. The fish are usually very hungry, and we have a great time catching brookies, rainbows, cutthroats, tiger, and albino trout.


This year after catching quite a few and keeping only a couple, I stopped and started looking around at the beautiful lake and mountains. I looked and listened for quite some time.  The beauty of these mountains and these high mountain lakes never ceases to amaze me. This, in turn, caused me to say a quiet “thank you” to the creator for allowing me to share in this part of the incredible, multi-faceted world that I live in.


Then as the photographer in me finally fought to the forefront of my thoughts, I started wondering how to capture this moment not only for me but maybe for others to share in this experience. An experience that borders on what I was feeling is very much like a spiritual experience.  It probably is after all is said and done.  (No negative comments here, please).


That is what we do as photographers.  We look for different perspectives. We look at the ordinary and try, through the use of different lenses and different perspectives, to see this ordinary place as something extraordinary.  Looking and seeing are really different attitudes and mind-sets.  As I have developed my art of seeing, I wonder what angle and perspective will give me that extraordinary view.  Will it be a peaceful shot of the lake with patches of snow on the mountains behind, or will it be a shot of the young child in the throws of excitement as she pulls a fish out of the water and shows it to her parents and siblings? One thing we need to understand as image-makers is that there is really more than one right answer to every photographic problem. Everyone can find one right answer.  The ability to be able to find more than one right answer is key to the development of the creative image-maker that dwells within each and every one of us.

Several years ago I was walking through the streets of Sorrento in Italy.  It was nearing dusk, and my senses were overwhelmed with the beauty and ethnic diversity of this beautiful city by the sea. I had been sitting for close to 30 minutes as I watched a lady with a cane talking with various people. I really wanted her to walk away or be alone on this beautiful side street where I was sitting and waiting. Soon the people she was talking with went into their shop, and the lady started walking away from me. As usual for me, I had gotten so involved in watching that the photographer in me wasn’t quite ready so I grabbed a little Canon point-and-shoot and snapped the photo that you see second in this post.  After some post processing in Photoshop and the creative use of a few plug-ins to help show what I had really seen that day,  I had an image that I was pleased with and that matched my memory of that day in Sorrento.


As photographers we often wait and watch. Then when we have taken it all in and considered the perspective and points of view, that is when we publish this image in our life through the use of the tools that we have available to us.  Through my abilities in photography I have developed so many more ways of loving life. Through our creativity I think we actually allow ourselves to fall in love with the world around us. That in and of itself makes me want to do the happy dance.  Life is surely richer as I look at it through a creative photographer’s eye, another reason to be thankful and refer to this whole thing as a spiritual experience.


The last photo was a grab shot taken by my daughter, Amanda. My son, Shawn, the fisherman/paramedic, was babysitting his niece and nephew. As usual he was trying to be creative in his duties so he decided it was time to teach the kids how to “Fish for Crocs”.  As my daughter returned home she found her brother and two kids on the driveway deeply absorbed in the act of fishing for crocs.  So my daughter has credit for the last photo with the title “Fishing for Crocs”. Often we need to have our tools available so when the creative bug nibbles at our senses, we are ready to answer the call.  Creative juices often flow at the strangest times, and we need to be ready. Photography gives us another a special way to love life and those around us.




I have been on the road for the last week, and during all the driving, I have been thinking more about some of the ways we learn photography. I talked about a lot of them in the first post I did on the subject, but as I have had time to think more, I have a few more ideas.

I think, first of all, we have to understand “how we learn”.  Do we learn best from reading books? Do we learn from going to workshops? Do we learn from watching video tutorials?  As for me, I tend to learn better by watching a video tutorial and watching how someone else worked through the process. I have friends who must have a book in front of them and need the written word to often refer back to. So, grasshoppers, understand how you learn best.

In the process of photography we all need to have an understanding of aperture and shutter speed. Yes….you do the thinking. Don’t let your camera do the thinking for you. Aperture and shutter speed are those important things that control the exposure of the subject. The creativity also can be enhanced by the creative use of shutter speed and aperture.  Then, as you learn and see how the aperture and shutter speeds control and change things in your image, you will suddenly see how light and shadow have a huge effect on the image you are trying to create. You also will slowly learn to see the light.

Example: The light and shadows at around high noon are really ugly. Nothing has good shape. In landscapes, early and late light help to shape things. Take a picture of aspens in the snow at high noon and then shoot with the aspens back-lit or side-lit by the sun. The shadows then become part of the composition and create a much more pleasant photograph. If you happen to like the light at high noon…….well, go for it; but as for me and my clan of apprentice creatives, we will shoot the light skimming across the land making beautiful shadows and textures. Listen with your eyes folks. Cue the music.

Here are some ideas that might help you in learning the photography process:

1: Go out and shoot with a friend.  Learn by watching others. They might see things in different ways and set their shots up differently than you.  Watch and learn from others.

2:  If you attend a workshop, understand what you want to learn from the workshop. Workshops mostly teach by the “shotgun approach”. You will get a lot of information that might be hard to remember after you have come down from the high energy of the workshop. Some workshops are great because they have times at the end of the workshop when everyone shows their images, and you can see what others saw and created during the workshop outings. I love a good workshop with a great teacher. They are fun, high energy, and often help you to see things more creatively. Pick wisely, and try to find comments from past attendees.

3:  Learn how your camera sees the world. This is a big thing! Each lens you put on your camera will give a different view of the subject you are shooting. Wide angles create a whole different look than a telephoto lens. Know what your lens will do for you. Practice and learn.

4:  “Photowalks”are fun to go on, and you will be able to see how others create their images and how they might previsualize the subject before taking the actual image. There might just be a lot of people who don’t have a clue about what they are doing as they blindly take photos of everything and anything in their paths.  Do not go with this group even if you are tempted by the cute guy or foxy lady that has latched on to this blind-leading-the-blind group. Trey Ratcliff does a great photowalk because he explains what he is doing and shooting during the walk. He has turned into a wise and very competent “Jedi master” of creativity. Try to follow this type of group. You should be able to find one person who really looks like they know what they are doing. Then just have fun creating images.

5:  Photo competitions..…..I personally am not a big fan of photo competitions. My main dislike is that there is no feedback of the photos presented. The photos are judged, and you have no idea why one won and why another was not liked as much. A person’s photography is very personal, so you need to be prepared to be judged. My second dislike is that you often have to pay money for each entry so they can judge you. Not a great way to entice young photographers to get better at their craft, if you ask me.

I hope these thoughts and ideas will help in the process of learning photography. Today, with the internet and social media, we have so many ways of getting information and so much information available to look at that it is often very daunting to enter the realms of “social media”. Flicker has actually turned into a very nice and inviting place to share your photos; not a lot of critical judgers there for sure. So learn to use the power of social media, be nice and not overly critical of the folks who make their thoughts available through the sharing process of blogging, and share your work with the world. It is a wonderful, and sometimes rewarding, adventure.

Narrow down how you learn best, and then use those tools to help you in your process of becoming a better photographer, one who can previsualize a shot with lens and angle before the camera is put up to your eye. When this starts happening, then you will really begin to have fun as your whole mind and body get involved in the creative process, and you will become the photographer you want to be. You just need to immerse yourself in the creative process of photography and the creative art of seeing. Both are things that should and can be learned well. “Walk in Beauty” as the Navaho would say. I would add  to capture that beauty and publish it in your life.



I was sitting in my hot tub this morning listening to the birds sing all around me. One bird, I think it is a nuthatch, will sing, and then I will whistle the same tune. We will continue this exchange until he is in a tree very close to me. I think he is probably looking for a mate. Anyway, as I whistle, I think about all sorts of things. Today I was thinking about the art of seeing in photography. The hot tub is not that hot this morning because it is spring in the mountains, and its purpose has changed to a thinking place rather than a place to take off the chill of winter.

So it is time to think about the Purpose of Photography.

We stand with camera in hand wondering what to do with this piece of technology and how to make it work for us.  Hold on, cowboy, let’s think about this a little harder. When we take that camera in hand, whether it be a big DSLR or maybe a small iphone, we have a goal to go out and create wonderful masterpieces that people will want to hang in their homes, and museums will want to hang to honor us as great photographers…….. Well, maybe that’s the goal for some, but the purpose of photography is maybe just to allow us to see the world around us through different eyes.  The camera, whatever type it is, maybe forces or allows us to see deeper into the beauties around us as it becomes an extension of ourself.

Several years ago on the island of Molokai, I met an older gentleman named Jim Coffey. He and his beautiful wife, Joy, were attending a workshop at the Hui Ho’olana. Jim had been retired for several years and was interested in the creativity taught by the wonderful, creative souls: Rikki Cooke, Dewitt Jones, Jonathan Kingston, and the pretty little lady, Theresa Airey, who turns photos into painted works of art with flair and a pixy smile on her face. Plus the wonderful Bronwyn, who chants like Pele herself, holds everything together with her own brand of Hawaiian grace. This is the workshop called Rekindling the Creative Spirit given at the Hui once a year.

Jim had a little difficulty moving too far or too quickly, so he decided that he would try to see what he could create close to home. He started shooting images of the inside of headlights on cars. Yes, you read that right. Because of all the reflective surfaces in the headlights, he was able to get some very interesting and beautiful images. The images also changed accordingly as different colors were reflected in the headlights and different cars were chosen as subjects.  Jim learned to see and create within the parameters that were available to him. Jim’s goal was to take pictures, but his purpose was to challenge himself to look deeper at the world around him and experience the world as much as possible for him at this time in his life.

Let’s look at another example. I love to fish. My goal is to go out and catch some fish, maybe even catch a big fish, but my purpose…….now that is a little more complicated.  I can go out to fish a stream at dusk, but often, more times than not, I get caught up in the beauty of the sun sinking on the horizon, the deer coming down to drink in the stream, the little floating, featherlike seeds flying everywhere from plants on the stream bank, the sound of the water moving over the rocks in the stream bed.…….  Do you know where I am going with this?  The experience of being was far greater than the goal of catching the biggest German brown trout in the stream.

So what is your purpose in photography?  Is it to see, to experience, to fall in love with the world around you as you look deeper into its beautiful mysteries? That is my purpose.  I want to listen, to see, and to fall in love with living and breathing. Then, as my soul is beginning to explode as my senses expand, it is then that I begin to create the images to match the feelings of my soul. That’s when the camera comes up to my eye.

Go out with a purpose to create images that are emotional lifesavers. These are the images that help us relate to the experience of the creation of that image. They keep us tied to that moment of creation. The minute you put the camera to your eye, you are ready to more fully experience the world around you.  You will walk with a spring in your step; there will be a smile on your face that might not have been there before.  The images might not be award winners or great works of art, not right away anyway, but they will be images that connect with your soul and remind you of the experience of living and loving in the world at the time you created the image.

Learn to see with purpose. Learn to love with purpose. Your life will be richer for it, and the lives of those around you will also be richer. I now look at car headlights with a different eye thanks to a wonderful, gentle man named Jim who taught me to see those things in a different way which had been meaningless to me before I met him. Thank you, Jim, for touching my life and guiding me in my art of seeing.

The purpose is always more important than the goal. The seeing is so much more important than the capturing of the digital image. Learn to see with your heart and soul, and the capturing will fall into place much more easily.


People often tell me that you have to be born creative.  It is just in your gene pool. If you don’t have it, you are just out of luck.

Years ago when I had a commercial photography studio in Texas, I had a photographer friend who rented space from me in the studio.  He was one of those lucky ones who was born with the “creative spoon” in his mouth. He would come in from an assignment and put his transparencies on the light table to edit, and when I would look at them, I was always amazed at the way he saw things. We could go to the same location, and he would always come back with the better photos. He saw angles I didn’t see, designs that I didn’t quite see, and colors that I couldn’t exactly visualize. (Back then if you underexposed “kodachrome or ektachrome”, the colors would pop or get saturated more. Photoshop was only a twinkle in the eye of Russell Brown)

After about a year and a half, one day my renter brought in some transparencies to look at. As I was looking over his shoulder, I started thinking that if I had taken the pictures, I would have done a few things differently. I would have changed a few angles, and, well,……..done a few things differently.  Wow….What had happened was that during the last year and a half, I had worked very hard to “teach myself to see creatively”. (My renter seemed to think that he didn’t need to grow because he was pretty good already. He didn’t work at his craft because of that creative spoon that he relied on.)  I realized that I had passed him in my ability to see because I had constantly been looking at the way other photographers shot and “saw” things, and I had gotten better, so much so that I was able to develop and improve my own ability to see creatively.

So, in essence, I was able to teach myself to “see creatively”. It was not easy by any means, but I was able to grow in my ability to see and frame and create.  I did this by analyzing the way other photographers that I admired framed and created their images, and I also was very critical as I edited the images that I shot.  I would look at them and say, “How can I make these images better? Is it the light that needs to be different?  Do I need to change the angle I shot from? Do I need to use a different lens to create a different effect?”

These are all things that every photographer needs to ask himself as he edits and analyzes his images.  How can I make these images better. How can I learn to see better creatively?

However, creativity needs to be nurtured.  If you let your creative side lie dormant for a while, it will not come back all at once. To nurture, just walk around and look at things. Think about the difference between a snapshot and a well composed photograph.  Train yourself to think and see as a creative machine. Lie down on the ground, crouch and look through the weeds or high grasses, put on a macro lens and get in close, shoot silhouettes, and learn about reflectors to control and direct the light.

One of the most wonderful, creative surprises came to me as I was working with some photo students.  I went in hoping to get through the class without too much discomfort.  Holy smoke! They all saw the world in different ways than I did.  Most of them were really good. They were so “HAPPY” to just be out and creating.  I had so much fun just guiding them a little, nudging them a little, and then watching them create.  Wow, what a wonderful creative experience!  I had come with the pressures of life weighing me down. The students had similar pressures in their lives, but with cameras in hands, we all put aside those pressures and embraced the wonderful creative side of photography as we looked through our lenses at the world around us. They all were learning to see differently, to see with creative intent.  Some images were award winners. Some were just OK. I taught them how to move their camera to get motion, and we all laughed at some images and were awed by others that, amazingly, worked.  They were embracing the creative spirit that exists in all of us.  We just have to find it and then feed it. It always helps if we have people around us that are so inexperienced that they don’t know that they are making mistakes.  And then……..their mistakes turn into blessings for the soul. Creativity is that way. You win some, you loose some, but in the process of doing… you grow; and your creative well is becoming fuller through this growth.

I once had a photo stylist that helped me on shoots.  She wanted to become a photographer but didn’t have a clue about the technical aspects of photography.  She would walk up to a location and look and then think.  Then she would tell me how she saw the photo being finished.  She had the mind-set of a typical designer with great ideas.  I say that because as she would tell me how she pre-visualized the shot, I would be thinking, “Holy smoke!!! How in the heck am I going to create the light and dress the set to create the multiple layers of that idea?”  Most designers don’t care how hard the shot is, they just want you to create it the way they see it. This stylist’s creative well was overflowing with creative ideas and visions.  She just didn’t understand the technical side. That wasn’t yet a part of her creative process.  Side bar…Even when she understood the technical side, she still saw things the same way, creatively. She just knew that it was going to be a hell of a process to prepare for the actual shoot. But it is what most of us pro’s did on a day to day basis as we built and created the sets needed to create our images on film.

Digital has cut that time way in half but also added a whole new set of problems. Mostly by giving us the ability to tweak and change in post production. We have to do it because we can. Onone and Topaz plug-ins I thank  again and again on a daily basis. With them and Photoshop I can do anything the client wishes. I just tell him anything is possible, some things just cost a lot more of his money to create. This is truly an amazing age of photography exploration and experimentation.

Most of us don’t have the blessing of having that intensity of creativity in our minds like my stylist, but we can still go out and learn to see and create better images through the simple act of doing.  We have fun doing the creative part and the technical part. With digital, now both parts are so much easier. Wow!!! What an incredible age we are living in.

One night a group of photographers were on a beach shooting the sunset. Everyone was very focused on trying to create the perfect image of this beautiful act of nature.  When it finally was getting so dark that we all needed to pack up, a sound was heard. It continued to get louder and came from just about every corner of the group of photographers standing there close to their cameras attached to their tripods.  The sound that was heard was a repeating of the words “Thank you” from each and every person. Incredibly cool experience. We have the ability to create these images, but it is also nice to thank the real Creator every now and then for giving us this opportunity to grow, appreciate His handy work, and continue to love what we do.




It seems that everyone has their own ideas about HDR.  One person likes it, another doesn’t, and yet another hates it. I think it all has to do with perspective and how much you are invested in HDR, to learn about it and to understand it.


Trey Ratcliff has become one of the “world’s” most well-known photographers. He has done this by perfecting his shooting of HDR, and he has become well known in just 5-6 years.  This would have been unheard of 10-15 years ago. That fact alone is almost impossible! How did he do it?  How could this happen?  Those questions are for another post.  Today we talk about how HDR is one of the coolest and neatest digital tools in your digital tool belt.

Digital photography has changed the world of photography big time. I see unknown people and people with little or no real-world photography experience producing absolutely wonderful, creative digital images. (In 2009 Facebook members uploaded around 30 billion photographic images.) We are without a doubt in the greatest age of photography since its inception. We have never, before this age and time, had the ability to experience the creative process and share our images with the world so quickly and so easily. In this creative process there are incredible tools available to the digital image-maker to help him/her be more creative in the digital world.  HDR is just one of these tools that we have to use in this “Creativity Revolution”.


The Zone System was invented by Ansel Adams.  I think if you were to look at an HDR print, you would be able to see clearly all of those zones that good ole Ansel described. “Moonrise Hernandez” is a great example. If you look at a print of the original negative, it is really boring; but after Kahuna Adams worked his magic with dodging, burning, and maybe some masking for high contrast areas, the image came to life and became the reality of “Moonrise Hernandez”. He could have over-done his dodging and burning and created a ho-hum image, but in the hands of a “creative master in printmaking”, the image took on a life of its own.


When shown an HDR image and other images, the average person will almost always choose the HDR image. Why?  Because it is the way our eyes see the world. Even if you can only see out of one eye like Trey Ratcliff, it is still something to cause a “Wow” to  gently escape our lips.

Landscape photographers like HDR, but they usually do a similar process by “blending images” in photoshop rather than by using an HDR software like Photomatix Pro or HDR Efex Pro. Landscape shooters claim that the color shifts that are given through the algorithms of the software are not acceptable. My response to that statement is: photographers shoot in raw in order to have the most information available in the image file. Why? So we can put it in photoshop and tweek it to become the way we first visualized it. If we have to mask one area and bring back original color, so be it. You have to do the same with “blending images”.  After you shoot your 3, 5, 7, or 9 images and run them through an HDR software, you then put the tonemapped image in photoshop to tweak. By dodging, burning, and masking as good ole Ansel did years ago, you get those beautiful “Zone System” images.

HDR gives you the ability of getting detail in the shadows and the highlights, a huge thing in photography by the way. It is really one of the greatest tools we have to give an image incredible depth.  It is so very much the “WOW factor” in modern photography that it makes an old guy like me get up and do the happy dance. (Not a pretty thing… but way fun.) However, you need to be careful not to over-adjust the sliders to the extent that you create a psychedelic image that makes your teeth hurt, that is unless you are still living in the “60’s and the little mushrooms you had for dinner make you just love the weird colors and tones. I am just kidding, but we all have seen those images, and they really do make my teeth hurt. It’s like fingernails on a chalkboard.

So the next time you see that perfect sunset or sunrise, and you are wondering how to capture all of the beautiful things that are happening before your eyes…..HDR is the answer. HDR seems to really shine, no pun intended, when you are shooting into the sun. If you have a big highlight like the sun, you probably need 5-7 exposures to process, but what the heck. Just make sure you have a stop difference between exposures, then don’t over process it in the HDR software.  Be gentle and loving with your creation. Don’t turn her into something that a shrink might use for shock therapy.  Then slowly introduce her to her new friend, Monsieur Photoshop, who will give her a wonderful make-over to enhance her natural beauty with a gentle and soft touch. He will introduce her to some dodging, some burning, and maybe a little masking here and there. Then stand back and admire your creation. Sometimes we have to go back and process the image again the next day or the next week. (It might have to do with our digestion, or just that we feel different at various times during the day. Who knows? ) Each time might bring a different result, but the most important thing is to enjoy the creative process.  You are a unique artist who sees things like no one else. Be patient and gentle with the sliders.  Learn as you make mistakes.  If it looks great, remember what you did and why it affected your image in the way it did.  Creativity is a process.  Mistakes are a big part of the process if you take the time to learn from those mistakes by really analyzing the various parts and tones of your image.

Take the extra time to learn the subtleties of HDR processing and then understand how to tweak the image in Photoshop to really make it hum a happy tune. The processing in HDR is only the first 65-70 % of the work, then comes the post-processing where you bring out the tones and personality of your image. Learn well and go slowly, grasshopper. This learning process can be very fun and rewarding as you “paint” and coax the image to life.

Go forth and create. Turn loose the creative part of yourself and have fun creating photographic works of art.


What do you do when you have expensive talent in front of your camera?  How do you go about directing them?  Can you make them feel comfortable and responsive to your directions? These are some of the questions that go through your mind as you begin a shoot with talent, actors or models, in front of you.


The most important thing to do is be prepared.  Have your set pre-lit, so all you have to do is “tweak” the lighting a little once the talent in on set, but most of all, know what you are trying to get from the talent.  Make sure you know the direction you need to take them in order to achieve the look that you want your images to have.


Here it gets tricky because you need to understand the nuances of body language.  If you want a shy look, you need to understand how the whole body shows shy, not just the face.  But how do you learn this?  It is done by watching and learning before the shoot.  Watch your children, their friends, your friends, and people on the street.  Become a “people peeper”, or the words, a “people watcher”, might sound better.  You do this by really understanding how the whole body, including the clothing and props, helps determine the look being portrayed.


I love actors.  They always bring “body and face” to the shoot.  If they are good, they will understand body language and how clothing sometimes really makes the character look real; but also, you need to be able to push them a little more as they get into character.  Sometimes shoulders need to be dropped, hands might need to “worry each other”, maybe a hand is brought to the mouth as a woman might do when she is feeling embarrassment or shyness.  You learn this by “watching and learning” from the people who cross your paths every day.  Watch how old people walk, and watch their posture.  Watch how a cocky young man stands and struts. Soccer matches are great places to watch body language in action. Watch the parents especially.  They are really quite funny and illustrative in the fine art of body language.


So before the shoot, dissect the shot or shots and get a feel for what each person needs to be doing in order to “create” the feeling of the character needed to make the image “read” and work.  Know where you are going and what you want to achieve.  Once you have achieved the original goal, then, if time allows, you can improvise a little to see what happens; but you will be far happier if you make sure you have the intended shot “in the can” before you let the talent run wild with improvisation. Only a few very talented people are able to improvise with wonderful results, so tread softly my friends.


Always be complimentary to your talent.  Just because you are paying them, doesn’t mean you can treat them badly. Treat them as you would a friend and a colleague. Let them know they are doing well and giving you the looks you want.  If they aren’t, say, “That really looks great, but let’s see if we can get a little different emotion by doing such and such,” and then direct them in the right direction.  Sometimes when I am directing, I often get on set and show them through my own actions what I am trying to create.  The talent often gets a kick out of seeing the photographer go through the same movements that he is trying to get them to do. Telling a story is a process, and a process takes time.  In video you can easily take the story from start to finish through moving pictures.  In still photography it is tougher on us because we have to tell the story in one image, so the characters, clothing, and propping need to be carefully thought through.


In the shot of the “Family Court”, the little boys untied shoe was the last thing that was needed in order to create the story.  The red hair was a given…..for the little boy and the big sister. Little touches like that always help to make the shot work.


Being a “Talent Whisperer” is not hard, but you need to spend some time in preparation.  Become a people peeper, and perfect the art of watching and learning as you observe the body language of those around you in daily life.

Continue to learn and have fun creating wonderful stories through your images. Good talent is really invaluable, so treat them well. Keep good records of the talent, including what they are good at and the many looks that they have in their arsenal.


My daughter, Amanda, who is cute as a bug and a great photographer, was shooting a wedding recently. (amandasimages.com)  She lives in Utah and was shooting in Salt Lake City at the LDS temple on Temple Square. Amanda and her assistant finished their shoot, went to their car, and drove off to home which was about 40 minutes away.  Amanda remembers putting her camera bag in the car.  On the way home they stopped at a Cafe Rio to grab a bite.  They got out of the car, and Amanda locked her car with her “fob”, the little clicker thingy on your key that locks your car wirelessly. After eating, they returned to the car to find the camera bag gone. She was scared, frustrated, felt violated, and sick. Her camera bag with her expensive Canon camera and lenses was gone as well as her digital media with all of the images from the wedding.  What the heck happened?

Oh Horrors and @#%$^$#%&^&%^$##…..lots of bad words. It seems that there is a crew of thieves working the area.  They prey on wedding photographers because they realize that these folks have lots of expensive equipment that can be hocked for quick drug money. They have a technology that allows them to capture the frequency of your “fob thingy” if it is used within a certain distance of the thieves.  So when you stop to go to the bathroom or grab a bite to eat, they pull up close to you and capture your fob frequency as you walk away from your vehicle, wicked gutter slime that they are.  (Ask me how I really feel!) So what can be done to help keep your equipment safe? I have a few thoughts and suggestions that might help.


Things to do to protect your camera equipment:

1. Do not use your fob thingy to lock your car. Lock the car with the key or the interior door lock.  It just takes a few more seconds to do this.  If there is anything of value in your car, do not use your fob to lock the car.

2. Always carry you digital media on your person.  Carry the media on your belt, in your pocket, in your purse, on a chain around your neck, strapped to your ankle or wrist, or in the money belt that is worn under your shirt close to your skin. Always keep your digital media with you.  This is good for any type of photographer doing any type of work. It is really hard to tell a client that their images were stolen.  Mothers-of-the-bride especially don’t want to hear this little piece of news; however, Amanda’s mother-of-the-bride was very understanding.

3. Carry insurance.  Car and home owners’ insurance will cover you in some instances. The deductible is usually high. Sometimes they only cover less than half of the replacement cost of the items lost or stolen. If you do have insurance, try to get a “marine binder” to cover your equipment including computer laptops. List all of your equipment with the serial numbers of each piece.  Business insurance is great.  The liability part is especially good if someone accidentally trips over your “assistant/second shooter” who is laying on the ground shooting up at the happy couple with the church spires behind their head. Liability insurance is great for just this kind of thing.

4. Be smart and careful.  Just because you are doing something good doesn’t mean that everyone around you is honest and good. Watch for wicked gutter slime who prey on clueless photographers.

5. If you do have a second shooter, have them keep their eyes open for sneaky looking people around the shooting area, especially when there are lots of people in the area. Don’t get paranoid, but just be extra careful.

6. If you can, take your camera bag into the restaurant with you.  Wrap the bag’s strap around your leg or around the leg of the chair where you are sitting.

Most of all watch out for those slime bags that prey on young women and young men who are trying to do good, creative things with their lives.  There are more and more slime balls around us who try to take advantage. Sad, but true.  Be smart, and be careful.  Always be aware of what is going on around you: no poles sticking out of heads and no slime balls sneaking behind trees.

Happy safe shooting.





The photographic community is everywhere. The social media is making it very easy to share your photo’s, even if they are not very good.  Every one wants to learn photography and the camera companies are selling a record number of new cameras each year.  So what is the best way to learn photography?

There are workshops all over the place, and many pros that I know are giving or hosting workshops to help people learn how to be a better photographer.  There is an abundance of books available, and the internet offers hundreds if not thousands of informative blogs to help people to grow in knowledge and be a better photographer. So what is the answer?  Do you spend thousands of dollars on workshops?  Do you spend the next 6 months reading books on photography to help you better understand how to see better and then how to shoot better?

I don’t think there is an easy answer to the question, but I think there is an answer that will help to guide you in the process of learning to be a better photographer.  A workshop is usually a wonderful creative time of sharing and learning.  It is usually fairly expensive and usually fairly intensive in the information given to the attendee. So if you learn this way: in other words through the shotgun approach, then this might be for you.  It is always wonderful to sit at the feet of great pro shooters and listen as they expound on the wealth of information that they have gathered during their time as a pro. If you can attend a workshop, then by all means go for it and be ready and open to absorb a lot of information. I enjoy workshops because of the wonderful creative energy that is found during a good workshop. I find this same energy from the college students that I often work with.  The workshop will most likely will be a great experience, but… what happens after the workshop?

Just as anything else in life, it takes time and effort to be good at anything.  How many times have I heard the phrase, “I just don’t have time to read that big manual that came with my camera!” Well, there are workshops that will give you verbally the information in that manual, if that is the way you assimilate knowledge better. Paying someone $150 per hour to explain a camera manual is not a great investment in my mind, but that is the way my “scotch” mind works.  And then, what happens after the workshop is finished, and the manual has been explained?

I am not one that gets real wordy.  I get really frustrated with authors who take 4 pages to explain what could be done in a couple of paragraphs.  So the simple and basic answer to the question is: Go out and shoot.  Shoot a lot.  Shoot a whole lot.  Then look at what you shot, and learn from your mistakes. And believe me, there will be mistakes. Look at them as learning exercises…not mistakes. Then go out and shoot some more. Hands on shooting is always the best way to learn photography.

The digital cameras in this day and age are amazing, but until you start doing the thinking and “stop letting your camera do the thinking for you”,  you will not advance and become a better photographer.  Here is a small list of things to do, to learn, and to help you develop into a better photographer.


1. Take your camera off of auto, shoot on manual, and read your camera manual. Yes, read your manual. Mark the pages that say things that you might want to go back and review. Understand how to use your camera. Know what each button does. Then practice what you have learned. The camera is just a tool of expression. Try to have a vision of what you want this “tool” to do.

2. Shoot often and learn from your mistakes. They are really not mistakes; they are just learning experiences. Learn the relationship between shutter speed and f-stop.  What do they do and how do they affect your image?

3. Look at what other photographers are doing, and try to take pictures similar to what they are shooting. Learn by seeing what others are doing with “their tools”.

4. Push yourself.  Give yourself assignments. Challenge yourself. Try to push your creativity and knowledge of photographic techniques. Today shoot flowers. Tomorrow shoot interesting faces.

4a.Try high-key lighting and low-key lighting.  Learn to use a tripod and shoot night shots with long exposures. Learn to see light and the way it turns an image from “ho hum” to one that is great!

5. Don’t take all your pictures standing up from eye level.   Sit down. Lay down. If you are shooting children, get down on their level. Lay down on your back and shoot up at trees.

6. Look for beauty and the unusual.They are actually everywhere. Learn to see and express what you see digitally.  There is a difference between a snapshot and a well-composed photograph.  Learn to think before you press the shutter button.

7. Learn different techniques like HDR and off camera flash, then experiment often with these techniques. (HDR is incredibly fun, but don’t over do it. Great images shouldn’t look like they are on drugs. Understand that the post-processing is what really makes the shot.)

8. Chase the light.  Get up early for the magic light.  The light usually sucks at noon. Late afternoon shadows are wonderful.  If you see a snow shot that you like, it probably has long shadows as part of what makes it an interesting shot. Learn to see light and shadows and how they affect the image….in a good way or in a bad way.

9. Take lots of pictures of family and friends.  Take your time with them and try to think creatively. Don’t just shoot to shoot…. but shoot to create.

10. Most of all have fun with your photography and remember……..Shoot often and shoot a lot.  It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen if you are consistent……. SHOOT AND LEARN!


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